Archive for November, 2008

29 November 2008

Vladimir Brown?

Mysterious story circulating in the UK today about the arrest of shadow immigration minister Damian Green by counter-terrorism forces. Green has been arrested for attempting to make use of leaked documents, or, more precisely, of “conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office” and “aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office”.

The Guardian tells us that:

Green, the shadow immigration minister, was held for nine hours before being released late last night. His Ashford constituency home and office in Kent, his London home, and his office in the House of Commons were all searched. […] The police seized his phone and his computer, giving them access to text messages and emails going back for months and years respectively.

On a side note, very many people have had their computers seized in the name of counter-terrorist operations over the last few years.

Brown responded to the news by saying:

The independence of the police is what should be upheld. I hope that everybody can feel able to uphold both the independence of the police and the statement that no minister was involved.

The Tories have responded to the accusations promptly, providing an equivalential link between Green and – in The Guardian story – Winston Churchill, Charles I, and Gordon Brown himself who all, it is claimed, made use of leaked documents. Over and again, they point to the need in a democracy for politicians to leak andor make use of leaked documents. And Brown is aligned to the most other of others:

The police action followed the arrest 10 days ago of a government whistleblower who allegedly leaked four documents to Green, who then passed them to the press. Cameron was convinced that such a move would have to be approved at top political levels. A Tory source said: “David Cameron is angry. This is Stalinesque.”

Strangely enough, Putin’s Russia has not been mentioned, although much of the same language has been used (Stalinesque, non-democratic, chilling, heavy-handed police operation, terror, and tinpot dictatorship).

More on Green’s arrest at the BBC (Q&A on the case), Times (on the anger at Green’s arrest), and Sky News (reporting on its exclusive interview with Brown). Iain Martin asks in his blog at The Telegraph ‘who the hell do those involved in this decision think they are treating an elected member of parliament in this way?’ (So, one could respond, it’s okay to treat other members of the public in this way?).

28 November 2008

Georgia Update

The story continues on Reuters.

Ex-envoy: Georgia thought US backed Ossetia assault
By Matt Robinson

TBILISI, Nov 26 (Reuters) – A former Georgian ambassador said on Wednesday that Georgia had wrongly convinced itself it had U.S. blessing for an assault on breakaway South Ossetia.

Erosi Kitsmarishvili, former envoy to Russia, told a parliamentary commission on Tuesday that Georgia had been the aggressor and triggered a war with Russia in August that proved to be disastrous for Georgia.

President Mikheil Saakashvili dismissed the comments as “simply untrue”.

Since his testimony, Kitsmarishvili has been vilified by senior Georgian officials, underscoring the difficulty of expressing dissent in the ex-Soviet republic since the war.

27 November 2008

Machinima | In Soviet Russia

Ever so subtle critique of Soviet Russia through the wonderfully creative medium of machinima:

Vodpod videos no longer available.And what is machinima?

Machinima is to film-making what mash-up is to music. Take your favourite computer game, make your own characters, your own plot, your own dialogue, and edit it all together into your own original film, with no need for real live actors (or their makeup artists, favourite drinks and bad moods). Or take your favourite song and make a music video using the characters from your computer game. Groups can collaboratively produce a film – some participants are the sound engineers, some do the story board, others shoot the film. This process is not as complex as it sounds. All you need is:

  1. Computer (PC or Apple Mac or …)
  2. Computer game (commercially purchased or freeware)
  3. Fraps (which is open source — or any other software which can record your video screen. The Fraps website offers a demo version which has limited usability, but an old freeware version which can do pretty much everthing is still available from Chip online)
  4. Video editing software (all computers running on Windows should have Windows Movie Maker; there are also commercially available software programmes, such as Final Cut Express or Julit. NB: old versions of Julit are available for as little as 10 Euros)
  5. Your ideas

With these ingredients, a machinima need not take too long to make. Basically:

  • (1) think of story ideas,
  • (2) start the computer game,
  • (3) turn on Fraps (one click and it records everything you see on your screen),
  • (4) make the characters do actions you want in your film,
  • (5) open the video editing software,
  • (6) drag the Fraps video clips into the editing software (as simple as copy and paste),
  • (7) cut out the bits you don’t want,
  • (8) add the soundtrack you would like (voice and/or music).
  • Voila.
  • Perhaps also (9) play with some special effects.

NB. The only problem with Windows Movie Maker is that it only has one audio track. This means you can have either music or a voice speaking. Can make some good music videos though. Easy Rider:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Check ‘Internet is for porn’ for more music. Or McCain’s promise to continue his election campaign, even though he lost.

Tags: ,
25 November 2008

Terrorism and French train timetables

Nine young French people have been arrested under suspicion of terrorist activities. Quote of the day via Georgio Agamben as translated and circulated via the nettime email list.

SDAT officers discovered “documents containing detailed information on railway transportation, including exact arrival and departure times of trains.” In plain French: an SNCF train schedule.

Agamben’s critic of the arrests, printed in Libération (19 Nov) under the headline ‘Terrorisme ou tragi-comédie’, begins thus:

On the morning of November 11, 150 police officers, most of which belonged to the anti-terrorist brigades, surrounded a village of 350 inhabitants on the Millevaches plateau, before raiding a farm in order to arrest nine young people (who ran the local grocery store and tried to revive the cultural life of the village). Four days later, these nine people were sent before an anti-terrorist judge and “accused of criminal conspiracy with terrorist intentions.” The newspapers reported that the Ministry of the Interior and the Secretary of State “had congratulated local and state police for their diligence.” Everything is in order, or so it would appear. But let’s try to examine the facts a little more closely and grasp the reasons and the results of this “diligence.”

First the reasons: the young people under investigation “were tracked by the police because they belonged to the ultra-left and the anarcho autonomous milieu.” As the entourage of the Ministry of the Interior specifies, “their discourse is very radical and they have links with foreign groups.” But there is more: certain of the suspects “participate regularly in political demonstrations,” and, for example, “in protests against the Fichier Edvige (Exploitation Documentaire et Valorisation de l’Information Générale) and against the intensification of laws restricting immigration.” So political activism (this is the only possible meaning of linguistic monstrosities such as “anarcho autonomous milieu”) or the active exercise of political freedoms, and employing a radical discourse are therefore sufficient reasons to call in the anti-terrorist division of the police (SDAT) and the central intelligence office of the Interior (DCRI). But anyone possessing a minimum of political conscience could not help sharing the concerns of these young people when faced with the degradations of democracy entailed by the Fichier Edvige, biometrical technologies and the hardening of immigration laws.

As for the results, one might expect that investigators found weapons, explosives and Molotov cocktails on the farm in Millevaches. Far from it. SDAT officers discovered “documents containing detailed information on railway transportation, including exact arrival and departure times of trains.” In plain French: an SNCF train schedule. But they also confiscated “climbing gear.” In simple French: a ladder, such as one might find in any country house. (Full text here)

‘Terrorism’ has indeed become a catch-all term, the ultimate contemporary floating signifier which can be fixed to any grouping or individual whose activities are deemed undesirable and/or threatening.

24 November 2008

War of Images

The Caucasus conflict was a central topic at the “European Television Dialogue” on 20 November, in particular the way the media reported it. Quote of the day today comes from Deutschlandfunk’s reporting of the discussion. Talking about the different ways of dealing with information and foreign correspondents, Stephan Stuchlik, correspondent for the main German television station ARD, said:

On the second day I tried to get into Tskhinvali. I waited for seven and a half hours at the border, and I only managed to get into South Ossetia with extremely Russian methods. Whereas the Georgian side immediately understood: aha, we need to offer journalists a service. There were little buses going from Tbilisi, driving people there and saying: Something really awful has happened here; here are the relatives, feel free to ask them. (my translation; full text here).

Deutschlandfunk’s report continues by telling listeners how Stuchlik tried to get his editors to cover the victims and eyewitnesses who spoke of Georgian atrocities. His reports met with disbelief:

You could see that the three days of anti-Russian reporting had left its mark. Not only on the public, but also on my bosses and the news editors.

And once again, we see the dispositif at work: Journalists are based in Tbilisi, are bussed into the region by their Georgian hosts. It fits a certain expectation that the Russian army will have been involved with atrocities. The Georgian leadership activates welcoming information managment techniques; local news and bloggers are onside. At the same time, the Russian side fends off the western journalists (annoying them in the process by making their work more difficult) rather than welcoming them into their information zone. Thus is hegemony is fed.

I still think one of the most interesting things about the conflict, however, is that – contrary to Stuchlik’s comment – the first three days of reporting did not leave its mark on very large swathes of the public. Why, in this one incident, did so many people not believe the reporting? They usually have a good deal of faith in western reporting when it comes to Russia, but not this time. Answers on a postcard to…

18 November 2008

Wiki of the day

Actually, two wikis of the day. The first, Volxbibel, in German; the second, CivilMedia, in English.

On Volxbibel users democratically re-write/re-translate the bible. The wiki is a workplace where each text can be edited and re-edited. After theologists and teachers have a look at the results of the various versions, a book is then published. Third version (3.0) is now on sale.

The Civil Media wiki covers the Civilmedia08 conference in Salzburg from 3-5 December 2008. “Cultures – Participation – Dialogue” invites media activists, practitioners, researchers, policy makers, community development workers and all interested to Salzburg to discuss the importance of communicty/grassroots/citizen’s/civil media, with a specific focus on intercultural dialogue in Europe.

14 November 2008

It’s all about Putin

I seem to be missing something. There’s a logical link that is not quite clear to me in the news reporting of the current debate on constitutional change in Russia. A bill amending the Russian constitution passed its first reading today. Sky News is only one of the media outlets to report in this vein, with the headline:

Move To Let Putin Re-Take Power

So, the headline lets me think that something has happened that will now make it easier for Putin to come back as President. Lead paragraph:

Russia’s opposition claims the country has taken one step closer towards full-scale dictatorship after its parliament moved to extend the presidential term from four to six years.

So the presidential term could be extended. There could well be grounds for the opposition’s claims, and it is certainly the responsibility of opposition parties to initiate this sort of debate with other political parties in a healthy democracy. But what does this extension, which Medvedev suggested in his State of the Nation address last month, have to do with Putin? Second paragraph:

The constitutional change, approved at a preliminary hearing, could see Prime Minister Vladimir Putin back in power in the Kremlin as early as next year.

The logical implication here which concerns me is that it implies that the constitutional change will have a direct implication on Putin’s possible return to power. But if we look at the Russian constitution, Article 81 tells us that:

  1. The President of the Russian Federation shall be elected for four years by citizens of the Russian Federation on the basis of universal, equal, direct suffrage by secret ballot.
  2. Any citizen of the Russian Federation not younger than 35 years of age and with a permanent residence record in the Russian Federation of not less than 10 years may be elected President of the Russian Federation.
  3. One and the same person may not be elected President of the Russian Federation for more than two terms running.

Meaning that this constitutional change which was reported in Sky News’ leading paragraph – and headlined on tv – has no impact whatsoever on Putin’s likelihood of retaking power. He is just as likely now as he was previously to return to power after a break in which Medvedev is president.

Al Jazeera International embedded their speculation on this issue in more extended interpretation, arguing that this constitutional amendment, rushed through quickly at this early stage of Medvedev’s presidency, makes it seem even more clear that Medvedev was only installed in order to make this change so that when (not if) Putin comes back – as he already could under the old constitution – he can come back for 12 years and not only eight.

13 November 2008

Iraq War Ends

Iraq War Ends headlines the online New York Times. Or is something unusual about that date?


Scroll down the page for an even more interesting headline: Nation Sets its Sites on Building a Sane Economy. The story leads:

President Barack Obama has called for swift passage of his administration’s Safeguards for a New Economy (S.A.N.E.) bill. The omnibus economic package includes a federal maximum wage, mandatory “True Cost Accounting,” a phased withdrawal from complex financial instruments, and other measures intended to improve life for ordinary Americans.

We’re liking this acronym.

11 November 2008

PDA and Obama

Lovely ‘positive discourse analysis’ of Barack Obama’s speech on David Crystal’s blog:

Speaking as a stylistician – as opposed to a human being (if you’ll allow me the distinction), as excited as anyone about this event – it blew me away. As the speech started, I turned to my wife and said, ‘He’ll never do it!’ What was I noticing? It was the opening if-clause, a 41-word cliff-hanger with three who-clause embeddings. Starting a major speech with a subordinate clause? And one of such length and syntactic complexity? I thought he would be lucky if he was able to round it off neatly after the first comma. Try it for yourself: get a sense of the strain on your memory by starting a sentence with a 19-word if-clause, and see what it feels like. But he didn’t stop at 19 words. The first who-clause is followed by a second. Then a third. It was real daring. It’s difficult for listeners to hold all that in mind. But it worked. And then the short 4-word punch-clause. And deserved applause.

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

How did it work? How can you get people to process 41 words easily? By following some basic rules of rhetoric. One is to structure your utterance, where possible, into groups of three.

who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible,
who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time,
who still questions the power of our democracy

The other is to make sure that none of these chunks exceed what is easy to process in working memory. Psycholinguists once worked out a ‘magic rule of seven, plus or minus two’ – that most people find seven ‘bits’ of information the most they can handle at a time.

Far more on Obama’s use of the ‘rule of three’/triples/tiptychs, his pair structures, rhetorical contrasts, slow build-up and elegance at dc-blog.

8 November 2008

Georgia-Russia Update

Updates on the conflict in the Caucasus are coming in every day. The New York Times headlines ‘Georgia Claims on Russia War Called Into Question’ and ‘Georgia Fired More Cluster Bombs Than Thought, Killing Civilians, Report Finds’.

Tomorrow (Saturday) and Sunday, BBC World is showing the Panorama special “Should we be scared of Russia?”. Interestingly, the Panorama website description of the 30 minute programme begins thus:

The sight in August of old people and children cramming onto tractors and into carts to flee from Russian tanks has rekindled notions of Russia as aggressor and oppressor.

The short war between Russia and Georgia began when Georgia invaded its Moscow-backed breakaway republic of South Ossetia last summer. Russian troops stationed there were killed and Russia retaliated by invading Georgia.

Whereas the BBC World News website description of the same programme begins thus:

A reinvigorated Russia is flexing its muscles on the world stage again, leaving a battered Georgia in its wake. Panorama speaks to those in Putin’s inner circle to find out what the Russians are really thinking and what it means for the rest of us.

The sight in August of old people and children cramming onto tractors and into carts to flee from Russian tanks has rekindled notions of Russia as aggressor and oppressor.

I’ve always been a fan of comparative discourse analysis.

p.s. BBC World News is showing “Should we be scared of Russia?” on:

Saturday 8th November at 0730 GMT. Repeating on Saturday at 1530 and 2030 GMT and on Sunday 9th at 0130, 0730, 1530 and 2030 GMT.